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Cardcaptor Sakura is by far one of my favorite anime, and I am quite fond all of its characters, which includes its main heroine, Kinomoto Sakura. Back when I first watched the series though, one thing about her struck me as rather odd. In an early episode, Sakura decides to treat herself with some money she’s saved up. You begin to think, is she going to get a doll, or maybe some kind of dessert or candy? How about a nice dress? But no, Sakura’s gets pancakes. And not even pancakes at a restaurant or something, but pancake mix, and she actually gives away some of her pancakes.

I remember thinking, wow, Sakura, you sure have no idea what it means to indulge yourself.

But recently, I’ve been feeling a bit pressured by impending deadlines, and as I struggle a bit to get my work done, I sometimes think of treating myself. Do I go to a restaurant, maybe get a nice bowl of noodles? Or maybe take a trip out to another city, perhaps even another country? No, instead I say to myself, “I’m going to buy some ground beef!” which as you know is like pancake mix, only made of cows. Sometimes it’s chicken breast.

So there I am, thinking that a delightful reward for myself is food which takes time to prepare and even more time to cook, though thankfully I don’t have an older brother’s friend whom I have a crush on who’d be getting like half of my cheeseburgers.

Sorry, Sakura. I understand you a little better now.

Ever since episode 1 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, many bloggers have been making confident statements about how the show looks to be a dark subversion of the magical girl anime. While that is certainly accurate on some level, it seems to be the case that a lot of people don’t quite understand how exactly Madoka Magica is a subversion, simply because they don’t understand the subject itself. In other words, a good number of people writing about Madoka Magica don’t actually know the magical girl genre, despite the broad statements being made. Thus, I am going to address at least a few misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Magical Girl Anime Are About Good vs. Evil

Correction: Magical girl anime are about “before” vs. “after.”

While there are some shows which pit our heroine(s) against a dark force, the vast majority of magical girl anime and manga do not even factor in the good/evil dichotomy. Instead, they will focus on how the magic changes their own lives or how it changes the lives of those around them. Those shows which do have a good deal of fighting often have it in service to something else; in those instances, it’s generally more about protecting others than it is vanquishing villains. So when someone says that Madoka Magica is different because it doesn’t have “Good vs Evil,” they are basically incorrect in the sense that magical girl shows were never really about good and evil in the first place.

Misconception #2: Magical Girl Anime Say, “You Don’t Have to Change a Thing!”

Correction: Magical girl anime say, “the magic isn’t as important as who you are!”

Yes, the “Be Yourself!” message is fairly common in magical girl shows, but there’s a distinct difference between this statement and the misconception. One implies a static existence, while the other points to an active one. The self-improvement thus happens with the help of magical powers, but it is usually the catalyst for change, with the real reason coming from within.

Misconception #3: Sailor Moon/Nanoha is a Typical Magical Girl Show

Correction: Sailor Moon is more of a typical fighting magical girl anime and Nanoha is an atypical fighting magical girl anime, while a typical magical girl anime is more along the lines of Ultra Maniac or Fushigiboshi no Futagohime.

This ties in directly with misconception number 1 and it’s fairly understandable why people make this mistake. Sailor Moon is a very significant show in the magical girl genre, and for many anime fans the very first mahou shoujo anime they ever watched (myself included), but it wasn’t really typical for its time. Certainly it has had its influence on later series, probably most notably Pretty Cure, but Sailor Moon combined the magical girl anime with the team dynamic popular in live action tokusatsu and to a lesser extent giant robot anime, and used that as a platform to deliver action-packed fights, but don’t confuse what Sailor Moon added to the genre with what the genre is fundamentally about.

Similarly, Nanoha is a show made for otaku, taking the magical girl formula and targeting it directly towards an older male audience–much like Madoka Magica itself–but it draws a lot from Sunrise action and mecha shows and adds a cup of moe. It’s also understandable why this might be an anime fan’s main exposure to magical girls, as fans who might have avoided the genre as a whole may have been pulled in by what Nanoha did differently, but that is the Nanoha formula, not the magical girl one.

“So what exactly is Madoka Magica subverting, then?”

To understand the answer to this question, we have to know the basic theme of the magical girl anime, which is how magic can make your wishes come true, or let you do things you couldn’t before. This can be portrayed by having a character, generally a normal girl, come across their magical abilities, or it can directly target the audience (which it generally assumes to be young girls) and have a girl who already has magical powers from the start. Either way, a magical girl show typically says, “Wouldn’t it be great to be a magical girl?” You can see this in pretty much every magical girl show aimed at girls, be it Cardcaptor Sakura, Majokko Megu-chan, Shugo Chara, Minky Momo, Ojamajo Doremi, and yes, even Sailor Moon. If the show is geared more towards male otaku, then the theme might turn into “Wouldn’t it be great to know a magical girl?” but the opportunity magic gives you to change/better your life is the crux of it all.

On some level magical girl anime are about the exploration wish fulfillment, and when you keep that in mind the true nature “dark” element of Madoka Magica becomes clearer. The dreary aesthetic of the witch realms, the violence, and the ambiguous morality in the characters play a role, but the most important point to consider is how the magical mascot Kyubey offers the chance to make your wish come true at the “price” of becoming a magical girl. The fact that the wish-granting comes with some sort of unknown, unquantified, and unqualified cost is where the direct subversion is strongest.

“How much are you willing to sacrifice to make your wish come true?”

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about an anime-related dream, here’s another one I had recently. It’s actually longer than this overall but most of it makes no sense, so I decided to just focus on the anime-related aspect of it. Let’s just say it involved a gangster who wanted to propose to his girlfriend by singing the rap/reggae opening from some video game.

I was at some anime convention that  had Tange Sakura (voice of Kinomoto Sakura)  as a guest. We were in an auditorium and we somehow convinced her to speak in her Sakura voice (which was way different from her normal voice), but then I decided I wanted to take a picture of her. At first I realized I had no camera, but then remembered my cell phone. When I took the picture Tange Sakura exclaimed for me not to, but it was too late.

On my phone there ended up being three pictures. Two of them had her mid-expression so she looked ugly in them, the kind of thing that happens when you photograph someone while their eyes are blinking and such. The last picture I thought turned out well, until I realized that her “face” was a digitized and pixelated black and white fist of Ken from Street Fighter doing a shoryuken from a poster behind her. She said that camera phones were different in Japan and that in Japan if people were making funny faces at each other you knew that they were about to take pictures of each other but America was different. I said, “Ah forget it,” and just shook hands with her. It was a very satisfying handshake and I told her I’m a big fan.

As she left, she told me that the one problem she had with the con was that the genders were not separated in the hotel. I told her that it was indeed a problem with American cons and that the staff would try to fix it.


Cardcaptor Sakura

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl series released in 1996 (manga) and 1998 (anime) which remains very popular among otaku. Following the life of a young girl who discovers magic powers and must use those new-found abilities to collect magical cards which have been dispersed throughout her city, Cardcaptor Sakura’s main draw is the natural charm its characters possess, particularly the heroine Kinomoto Sakura. Sakura exudes a sense of authenticity in her character that makes older male fans feel for her, and sometimes even develop sexual feelings for her.

While it’s never clear as to whether or not Cardcaptor Sakura was intended to be received by the fans in this manner (even though Sakura creators CLAMP were fans themselves before becoming professionals), there exists little of that ambiguity with a similar show, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Essentially following the same basic premise as Cardcaptor Sakura, Nanoha features a young girl who receives magical powers and has to go collect items, but the key difference between the two series is that while Cardcaptor Sakura was targeted towards primarily young girls, Nanoha was aimed squarely at those older male otaku who were very fond of Kinomoto Sakura and the world in which she lived. The late-night time slot, the merchandising (posters in the otaku-oriented Megami Magazine, Nanoha-themed hug pillows), all of it points to a show made for otaku. Why then, do the people who make and promote Nanoha go through all the trouble of giving the series this magical girl facade and having it designed to look on the surface as if it were designed for the enjoyment of young girls when it clearly is not? The answer is, because that’s what the fans want.


Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

“Textual poaching” is a term which refers to the act of engaging a work of media, be it text, television, radio, etc., and taking from it not so much what the author intended, but what is pleasurable or enjoyable to the reader/viewer instead of the work as a whole. Coined by Michael de Certeau in 1984, the term was utilized by Henry Jenkins in his study of Star Trek fans, particularly in the way that fans approached their own creative endeavors pertaining to their chosen fandom. The classic example of this is the notion that Kirk and Spock are romantically interested in one another, based on their close friendship and lines which are interpreted as “hints” towards their “true” relationship.

More recently, Jenkins has talked about how the one-sided conversation between creator and consumer has broken down, and how easy it is now for people to talk to a creator, albeit in the indirect form of shouting into the internet. While Jenkins does not focus particularly on Japanese animation, this is essentially the environment modern anime finds itself in, and in this setting you will find that a number of shows, like Nanoha, are designed to be poached.

At the zoo, chimpanzees are not fed by simply placing the food in front of them. Instead, what the zookeepers do is hide the food in the chimpanzees’ cage so that the chimps may find it themselves, and in doing so are creating a facsimile of the wild setting where chimps would forage for food. Even though the zoo is obviously not the jungle, this artificial foraging is what the chimpanzees prefer to simply having the food given to them. In essence, this is the situation surrounding the otaku and the otaku-conscious creator. The otaku, the fan, gains enjoyment from being able to draw from these works a secondary interpretation of events and characters within, and so the creator responds by making a story which on the surface seems very similar to an “innocent” series, but in actuality is constructed from the ground up as a work meant to simulate the foraging otaku engage in to find aspects of a work they can extrapolate as fans. Another example of this is Prince of Tennis and other similar series which, while running in Shounen Jump, are designed in part to attract the female readers who, similar to the Kirk/Spock fans, saw the “close friendship” theme common in shounen manga as “CLOSE FRIENDSHIP.”


Prince of Tennis

The joy derived from not approaching a work as intended makes sense when you realize that many fans are familiar with the notion of liking things to an extent others may not. Fans, after all, are not the majority. As such, they are experienced with liking things which are not intended for them, to the point that the act of pursuing series not intended for them may become the focus of their activity as fans. Creators understand this desire, and so have responded in kind by making series which are designed to be used in that manner, like a small man-made pond where pre-caught fish are thrown in to make things easier. The relationship between creator and fan/otaku is thus predicated on this willful suspension of disbelief. The otaku are willing to pretend that this series made for otaku is not made for otaku. The creator, in turn, continues to intentionally hide bits of “sustenance” in the fans’ cage, a cage which the fans have willfully constructed themselves and can leave at any time should they choose to do so.

Kinomoto Sakura, the heroine of Cardcaptor Sakura, is one of the most beloved anime characters of all time. Full of energy, enthusiasm, and a drive to find happiness for everyone with mixed an innocent girlishness, Sakura became what is essentially the lofty goal of most moe characters. She tugs at the heartstrings in a convincing manner, gets you rooting for her as she goes out to face the next challenge, and is both believable and fantastic. A good portion of this power and majesty (at least in the anime!) lies in her voice actor, Tange Sakura.

Tange Sakura to certain otaku such as myself is one of the finest voice actors ever, due mainly to the convincing humanity she puts into her roles. But then a  few years back Sakura retired from the world of voice acting, right around time anime really started to take off around the world, leaving a small semi-generation of anime fans unfamiliar with her abilities. But now she’s back, and I have to say few things are as momentous in anime voice acting as the return of Tange Sakura. I don’t know why she left, or why she’s decided to come back, but it is welcome news.

So far she’s played a character in the video game Love Plus, with her first anime role since her retirement being the vampire Hatori Kanon in Anyamaru Tantei Kirumins (which if I were to try to translate into English would be something like “Animeow Detective Mascots”). It’s definitely Sakura all right, though she doesn’t get very many lines. She’s also working with a mix of relatively new voice actors, and some people she’s worked with before, namely Tanaka Hideyuki (Sakura’s dad in CCS). I wonder if anyone out there is watching this show just for her, and not say, because it’s directed by Kawamori Shouji (Various Macross seres, Escaflowne, Aquarion).

I would not be surprised if that were the case, and wouldn’t really mind anyone watching this show in particular for the voice actor(s).

Mazinger Z. Galaxy Express 999. Ranma 1/2. Astro Boy. There are a lot of anime out there that are considered classics (and rightfully so), but the problem with getting into them is that they can be very, very long with anywhere from forty to two-hundred episodes and beyond. Because of this, trying to experience what made these shows great becomes a daunting task, especially when not all of them are “serial,” and instead have large chunks which are simply episodic and, while perhaps decent episodes, are not the ones that can really grab people by the heart and the lungs.

What I am proposing then is that a guide to these long shows be made, pointing out the episodes which are considered, while perhaps not “necessary” to the viewing experience, to be the apex of the show. That way, anybody who just wants to sample the show but in a meaningful way (not just watch the first episode or two and be done with it) can do so and fully understand the reasons that show is called a classic.

But I can’t do it alone.

When the main focus is to be absurdly long shows, no one person can watch everything to make sure that all bases are covered. I would need help. Possibly, I would have to get one or two people watching any given show and have them report back to me what they consider to be the “big” episodes, and then check it out myself to see just how good they are. Something like that.

Maybe this can apply to manga too.

I don’t have any episode lists to recommend at the moment, but I-

Wait, maybe I do.

LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES
RECOMMENDED EPISODES: 1-110

(Seriously, watch the entire show)

There’s two new shows this season where the apparent premise is that the main characters do not strive to be the very best, like no one ever was. One of these is the moe-powered 25-minute mahjong commercial Saki, and the other is the latest Kyoto Animation cute girls fest about a high school band K-ON! While the titular Miyanaga Saki is simply a mahjong genius who has found a way to merely seem mediocre, and K-ON!‘s Hirasawa Yui is simply a no-talent clumsy girl who’s trying to find something she can sort-of kind-of do, both girls are clearly going for the same goal, which is to be okay.

While both shows are clearly aimed at otaku with their ensembles of adorable girls with relatively harmless personalities, I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of “otaku are afraid to succeed and that’s why these girls aren’t striving to be the very best!” How I personally feel about it is that it’s actually kind of refreshing to not have characters who are entirely about toppling their opposition in a given field. Even if the story turns out that way eventually (a likely scenario for Saki), the fact that it started out that way is pretty nice.

Also, Saki is basically Takumi from Initial D only with mahjong tiles instead of a AE-86 Sprinter Trueno.

Dave Merrill recently posted a survey and history of the seedy, unwashed, giant underbelly of anime fandom in the US. In it, he gives examples, taken from various anonymous contributers, of the people who are often referred to as “that person.” Each anecdote leads me to be grateful that I did not turn out to be the one to take others down through ill personality or whatever, but at the same time I find myself reflecting upon each description. I can see a bit of myself in pretty much every person described, but I also realize that it’s because of the fact that I can only see “a bit” of myself in them that makes all of the difference.

I can relate to the guy who carries his video game consoles with him to every meeting. I can see a person bringing his precious consoles along constantly, hoping for someone to say, “Wow, is that a Neo-Geo?” And then the person would gladly pull it out and a good time would be had by all, and they’d think that console-carrying guy is pretty swell. But then if console carrier never has the initiative to simply propose that they play some of his games, then he’ll still be waiting passively. When presented with someone like this, we’d probably say something like, “Get some confidence, chum.” Lack of confidence and drive is a hallmark of dorks everywhere, after all. It’s dangerous advice, however, when you consider the example of the guy who gives out his own Inspector Gadget porn to everyone.

Inspector Gadget Porn Distributor is what can happen when you tell someone with deep shame that it’s okay to be shameless, that it’s okay to be confident in what they do. The problem isn’t that he draws the images, it’s that it becomes the singular focus of his interaction with fellow anime fans. I believe that not only fans but people in general should not be defined by a singular purpose, as no person is that devoid of depth. And yet, are fans not defined by their obsessions, their ability to take things further than others? How far is too far? It’s a strange dilemma in that we have to learn to constantly set and then break our own limits.

I know that it sounds weird for the person who writes Ogiue Maniax, a blog with obsession in its very title, to be talking about things like tact and reservation, but I think it’s the combination of obsession/devotion and desire for variety in me that has brought me to this place. And while I don’t have the confidence to say that I have the patience or ability to help those fans who are truly in need of an awakening, what I can say is that I hope we can all help to moderate each other.

Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the most popular female characters ever. With such popularity, it’s very easy to look at Sakura and assume that she’s just a manufactured collection of moe features, or that she’s purposely designed to appeal to pedophiles, to which she is no doubt a popular character. Here is where I tend to argue that people who claim this to be the case are seeing the fruit and not the root. Sakura was not forged in the fires of Moedor but is rather an innocent character so well-conceived by her creators that people could not help but like her. This is what i believe.

But then consider the creators of Cardcaptor Sakura, the all-female manga duo CLAMP. CLAMP is no stranger to the world of otaku. They love manga and anime themselves. They miss deadlines because they played too many video games. Most importantly, prior to their big break they were doujinshi artists drawing things like Saint Seiya.

Kamichu! is the story of a junior high school girl who finds out that she is a god. It’s a sweet kind of slice-of-life story. The creator of Kamichu! is Naruco Hanaharu, artist of many, many pornographic comics.

The question  I ask here is, can a character truly be innocent if their creator has publishing material under their belt that is anything but? Is extensive experience on the adult side of manga a detriment to one’s ability to produce works of innocence, and if so is the damage too much?

I personally believe that it is possible to wash your hands clean and have work that is separate enough that they do not hold sway over each other if the creator so chooses. However, I know that some would disagree with me, and I have little confidence that I’ll be able to just outright convince people otherwise, especially if it’s a strong belief. What I will say is that in comics in general, there’s a lot of proof of comic artists around the world who have done children’s comics and then some “extra” work on the side. Are they all condemned as well?

That said, I do draw the line at a certain point, which is when you draw smut of your own characters who are supposed to be innocent. So sorry, Gunslinger Girl, you have author-drawn doujinshi of the non-wholesome variety. You do not pass this test.

Having spent yesterday and today hesitating on whether or not to buy the special edition Cardcaptor Sakura movies, I decided to sit down and watch some episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura, to see if it would swing my decision one way or the other. As of now, it’s still undecided, but just like every other time I’ve decided to re-watch Cardcaptor Sakura, I was reminded of how good the show looks. Years from now, the show will still look good. And this got me to thinking about the way time relates to an anime’s visuals.

In animation, there is a race to see the visual quality of animation improve over time. Though it’s not as drastic or hotly contested as the race that video games have gone through, it’s not uncommon to hear from people that a show looks outdated. This is a dangerous way of thinking, as it assumes that the shows you like today will be considered inferior in ten, twenty years. One might say then, that “timelessness” is the ideal to pursue, but at the same time I don’t think “timelessness” of visuals is necessarily a good thing. Much like how making anime for an international audience can take away some of the uniquely Japanese aspects of anime, I think a similar problem can occur when the creators of a show try to isolate it from its own time. At the same time, this isn’t an excuse for a show to look bad or have poor art direction and using either “timelessness” or “representative of its time” as an excuse.

Different shows seem to approach this issue of time and its relation to the animation quality. In Cardcaptor Sakura, it’s the well-thought-out “camera” angles, transitions, and just the way the show flows naturally from scene to scene and action to action that makes it stand the oft-mentioned “test of time.” Koutetsushin Jeeg and Re:Cutie Honey, both updates of 70s Nagai Go works, merge the visual cues of 70s anime with a modern sense of perspective and consistency towards animation. Casshern SINS, a current show, takes an interesting approach. Its main character is said to be immortal, and to show this the design of Casshern references anime throughout the decades. Casshern himself is a 70s anime character, while his hair and musculature are similar to 80s characters, his figure and facial features are reminiscent of 90s bishounen, and the overall aesthetic of the show is very modern. Anne of Green Gables, a 1979 anime series directed by Grave of the Fireflies director Takahata Isao (with Miyazaki on staff as well), is an adaptation of an already well-known novel, and though there wasn’t a lot of resources in animation at that time, they worked with what they had to make the show very engaging.

“Working with what you have” may not always produce the best or most well-remembered shows, but I think it’s an important step in making a show whose visuals will be well-remembered years down the line when what was once cutting-edge will become as old-hat as wearing a skinned sabretooth tiger. One thing that Cardcaptor Sakura, Koutetsushin Jeeg, Re:Cutie Honey, Casshern SINS, and Anne of Green Gables have in common is that you can see the sheer amount of effort put into these shows. Judging “effort” is tricky business, and might even be scoffed at as impossible or even arbitrary, but when there’s this much effort involved I think you can’t help but notice. And when people, year after year notice this, that’s when a show’s visuals can be called “timeless.”

Though if you don’t aim for “timeless” art direction, that still doesn’t mean your show cannot be great.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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